Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell under investigation for alleged misuse of power
The Davis County Attorney and the FBI are investigating allegations that Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell may have tried to influence the outcome of a child abuse investigation on behalf of someone he knew personally.
In 2011, Bell ordered three auditors to look into the policies and procedures used by the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to investigate child abuse cases. The 47-page audit itself is heavily redacted and sheds little light on the specific case in question. Field work began in July 2011 and the audit was completed in January 2012.
In an interview, Davis County attorney Troy Rawlings said he could not discuss the criminal investigation his office is conducting. But he provided a written outline of the allegations:
• The audit may have been an abuse of "governmental power and public moneys."
• It may have been "outside the scope of legitimate authority."
• The audit may have been intended to "thwart the outcome of a singular child abuse case."
• The personal relationship between Bell and the "interested party" caused concern among staffers about their jobs.
Rawlings' outline, topped by a short letter, noted that no one has been accused of a crime. The outline noted that the FBI was providing "support and assistance" with the investigation.
Bell did not respond to a telephone call and an email seeking comment.
The audit prompted Department of Human Services executive director Palmer DePaulis, who oversees DCFS, to write a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert, dated Dec. 17, 2012, complaining that Bell "involved himself in a DCFS case in which he had a personal interest."
DePaulis wrote that Bell was not convinced by assurances that the case was being handled appropriately and ordered "an audit that I feared could influence our case."
"As a result, however, I believe that the Lt. Governor questions my integrity, the integrity of my DCFS director, and some of my staff. I now find myself at odds with the Lt. Governor, and he expresses no confidence in me."
DePaulis also expressed fear that Bell would retaliate against him and "try to remove my DCFS director and other staff involved in this case."
The letter mentions the possibility that DePaulis might retire soon, but a spokeswoman for his department said no decision has been made.
DePaulis declined to comment on the case Thursday.
When asked Thursday about DePaulis' possible retirement, Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledged that Bell and DePaulis "did have some issues" but expressed confidence in DePaulis.
He said such audits are not unusual and that Bell is honest and has done nothing inappropriate.
Herbert added that the state's executive branch is responsible for oversight.
"We have a responsibility to make sure those processes are being done correctly," he said. "We need to protect the integrity of the process, particularly in these kind of emotional issues, so this review that took place was very appropriate. We got some information about the process and what has gone right and maybe a couple of areas that could need improvement."
Bell is now the second state official to be investigated by the FBI, after Attorney General John Swallow. That investigation is looking into Swallow's role in helping indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson hire lobbyists to intervene in federal regulators' probe of Johnson's I Works company. Johnson has at times described the proposed intervention as a plan to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.